Thursday, March 15, 2007

Professor Niyi Osundare


A review of Niyi Osundare’s TENDER MOMENTS

by Folu Agoi


There is a popular notion that violent games sometimes exert a positive effect. This is often achieved by means of catharsis, which refers to the process of discharging, and thereby providing relief from, powerful or repressed emotions. The seat of all emotions, especially love, and thoughts is the heart. Love is the basis of all existence. Love rules the world. This seems the basis for the publication of TENDER MOMENTS, a collection of love poems authored by Niyi Osundare, the Ikere-Ikiti- born Professor of English (now at University of New Orleans, USA). The collection, published in 2006 by University Press PLC, Ibadan, reflects a marked departure from the previous collections for which the African leading poet is generally acclaimed as a political poet renowned for his rather combative style. These publications, based mostly on the socio-political circumstances of his beloved country, Nigeria, include: Songs of the Marketplace (1983), Village Voices (1984), The Eye of the Earth [joint winner of the 1986 Commonwealth Prize for Poetry] (1986), Moonsongs (1988), Midlife (1993), Waiting Laughters [winner of the NOMA Award] (1990), and Selected Poems (1992).


As hinted above, the heartland of every worthy, sterling endeavour is passion. Passion is the blood that runs through the veins of the writings that portray Osundare as a literary firebrand, die-hard political poet, and indeed, his latest offering, which is based on the supple subject of love. Though each of his previous publications, especially the award-winning work, The Eye of the Earth, is jazzed up with spicy lines, TENDER MOMENTS, which accentuates the Poet Laureate’s humanity and shows him as a man of intense, fierce passion, is his first exclusive work dedicated to the celebration of love. However, some of the poems betray strong political undertones, e.g.:

So even now that the GeneralDecrees death from the distance

Of rocky castlesNow that legislated Terror reddens the streets

All the powerful lies usurpThe lanes of complacent ears (“You Gave Me Memory”, p.26);……………………………………I wanted so much to comebut there were corpses across the path
The generals, drunk on beer and blood,emptied mortar shells into surging crowds,in desperate awe of a foe called democracy (“Love in a Season of Terror”, p.33);
The 102-page publication, which parades 77 verses, classified under three main headings (In the Mood, Songs of Absence and Metaphor), opens with a poem entitled “In the Mood for Love”. This 12-stanza poem, spiced with the following refrain, effectively sets the stage for the thrilling odyssey of romantic poetry, bearing much evidence of surrealism, which awaits the reader in the collection:

Sun mo bi, Ologuro (Move closer, Sweetheart)I am in the mood for love tonight.

The poem is crafted against the backdrop of the moon, as if stressing some link with Moonsongs, an earlier collection of the nature poet:

The moon is playing hide-and-seekBehind the clouds. A mellow smileLingers on the lips of the sky (p.3).

This poem is followed by “You Are the Reason” and “Love Can”, a 3-part poem introduced by the following paradoxical lines, which seem a precursor of the strong feelings about the character and power of the subject of the volume, love, articulated in the verse with copious employment of oxymoron (bitter sweet, heavy light), and (also in other poems in the collection) antithesis, metaphor, simile, personification, etc.:

Love hurtsLove heals
……………………………Your buttocks like loavesRising in the furnace of the sun. (“You”, p.85)……………………………
Your breasts are two virgin hillsWith their pinnacle of paradise. (“Metaphor”, p.96)
“Tender Tormentress”, p. 23, is another poem in the publication that reflects the use of oxymoron. However, the 3rd stanza of the poem bears what seems an isolated case of typographical error:

in the feathery sockets of of a voice...

Other poems in this section include: “The Evening of Your Smile”, “Forbidden Song”, “Firelove”, “04 04 04” “Special Day”, “Touch Me”, “You Are”, “Not Now, Desdemona”, “Adumaradan” (Yoruba and English versions), “Queen of the Night”, “Divine Command”, “Tender Tormentress”, “Tender Moment”, “Tasks”, “You Gave Me Memory”, “Born in Every Land”, “Breaking Bread”, “Beehive”, “the Fish in Your Eye”, “Phone It in”, “Puzzle”, “Love in a Season of Terror”, “Public Passions”, “Laughter without Forgetting”, “Who’s Afraid of the Mermaid?”, and “The Longest Love Poem in the World”, which contains only one word:


The 2nd segment (Songs of Absence) comprises: “Song of Absence” (1 & 2), “These Many Moons”, “While You Were Away”, “Borrowed Paper”, “Chase”, “Three Sadnesses & an Acre of Laughter”, “Promise”, “Where?”, “Miles and Rice”, “Bulb Eyes”, “Airport”, “Love from the Sky”, “Fly Fast”, “Fly Me”, “I See You”, “Have You Seen Her?”, “Heart’s Eye View”, “Skirt”, “Rain or Shine”, “Dusk”, “Endnote”, “Under Another Sky”, “Tidings/Trade Winds”, “Closer by Far” and “Elephant Across the Path”.

The verses in the 3rd section, captioned Metaphor, are: “Questions for a Poet’s Wife”, “Bless”, “Keep the Window Open”, “Love Grows in Your Garden”, “Apple of my I”, “Mood”, “You Taught Me”, “Liquid Legend”, “Mountains”, “You”, “No-Yes”, “Loreving”, “My Miss Take”, “Do It”, “Grafted”, “Melody”, “Ebony (1)”, “Born Between Two Seas”, “First Love”, “Dogon” and “Metaphor”.


The verses in TENDER MOMENTS are, in the main, lyrical. These poems exhibit the essential ingredients of African poetry, which is largely panegyrical, dramatic, and musical. Most of the poems in the collection, especially “Bless” (p.75) could be sung to the accompaniment of drums, gongs, flutes, horns, sekere (rattle gourd) and other African traditional musical instruments.

Some of the poems feature refrains and songs; e.g. “In the Mood for Love” (3), “Adunmaradan” (pp. 17 & 19), “Elephant Across the Path” (p.68).

Though blank verse is employed in much of the poetic content of the publication, the poet reflects much industry and discipline, especially in the area of versification. The verses in the collection are mostly consciously skilfully patterned; e.g.:

Hold me tightUnfreeze my night
Count my teethWith the tip of your tongue
Deck my neck with a golden wreathKnock me our with your endless song
Climb my mountain and pluck a starLove’s blue sky is never far. (“Do It”, p. 89)

Virtually all the poems in the collection are imagistic. Vivid imagery, mostly drawn from the poet’s home environment, is employed. The dominating images in the publication are those that appeal to the senses of sight, touch and smell.

Wherever you goSomething follows:A pair of happy mountainsDifficult not to seeImpossible not to love. (“Mountains”, p.84)
……………………………….Did you feel a tingle between your legsAs you passed through our haunted spots (“These Many Moons”, p.43)

One unique feature of TENDER MOMENTS is the interpolation of Yoruba expressions in many of the verses that make up the collection. For instance, the opening verse, “In the Mood for Love”, is spiced up with a curious refrain composed of an exciting intermixture of Yoruba and English lines:

Sun mo bi, Ologuro (Move closer, Sweetheart)I am in the mood for love tonight.

The author’s recourse to the rich linguistic repertoire of his homeland is not peculiar to this precursory poem, as could be seen in the following samples:
“Adumaradan”, a poem written in Yoruba, and translated into English (pp. 17 -19);
“Alabaun abandons its tabernacle of tricks” (“You Are the Reason”, p.5);
“A universe of iyan, a fragment of fishSwimming lustily in a sea of sokoyokoto” (“Phone It In”, p.31);
Patonmo (“Endnote”, p.64);
Awero (“Tidings/Trade Winds”, p.66);

Another prominent element in the collection is humour. This is reflected in the content and diction of virtually every poem in the work, especially the poem entitled “Mataphor”, p.98, which is based on El Postino, a love story woven around Pablo Neruda. The poem, which features a colourful cinematic plot, also highlights Osundare’s excellent quality as a fantastic wordsmith:

Meta meta metaphor meta lo fo kii se kan.

This expression is a trans-lingual, Yoruba-English pun: metaphor bears multiple meanings; in Yoruba, meta lo fo means three is what it means.

The language employed in the volume is largely limpid and racy, if not risqué or earthy. This is reflected in virtually all the verses in the collection, replete with concepts and images that would have been adjudged vulgar were it not for the poet’s masterly, creative use of language. Here are a few samples:

Love can swim like a fire-tailed spermthrough the dark caves of desirewhisper wet wonders in the ears of eternal circles. (“Love Can”, p.6) ………………………………
There is a secret flowerbetween your legs behinda thicket of thornsand a thousand touch-me-nots. (“Forbidden Song”, p.10)………………………………I soar lovewardsIn the firmament of your breast. (“Firelove”, p.11)…………………………And so you said:‘Let us go behind the wallsAnd I will show youThe birthmark below my navel’ (“Tender Moment”, p. 24)…………………………….My song will find you in your flair of feathersEven as I touch you in your soft, abiding core. (“Tasks”, p. 25)


The verses in TENDER MOMENTS, the author’s first major publication after he lost his entire library and other valued possessions to Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged his New Orleans (USA) home in 2005, is obviously an authentication of the humanity, and perhaps, the fecundity or virility of the 60 year-old author. The robust, strong, somewhat daring collection, which is an attestation to the affirmation of life, indeed lends credence to the notion of the indestructibility and immortality of the creative spirit.

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